Okay, this will be my last post on Xenophanes--except to disclose, tomorrow, the Magical Mystery Text. (Hint: You may easily arrive at the answer, if you look without ease.)
You are familiar, no doubt, with what is probably the most famous fragment of Xenophanes, used as the motto of the journal, Ancient Philosophy:
I find Richard McKirahan's comment on this interesting. He says that the fragment "unsurprisingly rejects divine revelation as a source of knowledge. That is not the sort of thing that Xenophanes' god (note the plural in the fragment) does" (67-8). In a footnote about the plural, 'gods', McKirahan adds: "The point of [the fragment] is that knowledge does not come from divine revelation, not that there are gods that reveal things to mortals."
ou)/toi a)p’ a)rxh=j pa/nta qeoi\ qnhtoi=si’ u(pe/deixan,Yet the gods have not revealed all things to men from the beginning;
a)lla\ xro/nw| zhtou=ntej e)feuri/skousin a)/meinon.
but by seeking men find out better in time. (KRS text and translation)
Yet last time I looked, 'not everything' meant the same 'at least one thing not'. And even if 'not everything' were a litotes, it would still mean no more than 'few things'. So how does McKirahan get from this the interpretation that nothing is revealed? And this interpretation is so settled and clear, in his mind, that he uses it in his footnote to rule out other things in the fragment, as not seriously meant. That is, he uses something not in the fragment to dismiss something in the fragment.
He's not alone in this, of course. I find the same interpretation of the fragment in other sources. (A common claim is that a deity who 'shakes all things by his thought' wouldn't be the sort of deity who revealed anything. Oh, really?)
But what I wish to emphasize is simply that the interpretation is unjustified. It's an instance of what I shall give the name 'hermeneutic hype', quite common in the interpretation of the presocratics:
hermeneutic hype. Def. The magnification of a philosophical view without warrant, especially by assimilating it to some position, similar to it, which is clear and attractive because exaggerated.The view that 'nothing is to be accepted on authority' or 'only reason, not tradition or revelation has merit' is attractive because it is so clear and simple. We make out Xenophanes to be proposing something novel and radical if we make him out to be saying something like this. The only trouble is, the attributed view isn't warranted by the text.